The Invisible Man
By Dwayne John
23 Dec 2009
There are approximately 114,000 homeless individuals living in New York City, including nearly 3,300 people living in the subway system.
For the most part, we the riding public are apathetic towards these indigent people and show little interest or concern for their plight. We've heard their sob stories hundreds of times, indulged their singing and dancing routines, and treated their panhandling as minor nuisances that are part and parcel of the subway riding experience. I, for one, simply cranked up the volume on my iPod or buried my face in my newspaper, trying my best to tune out.
But that cold indifference changed for me earlier this winter when I noticed a barefooted, seminude older man, squatting below an empty station agent booth at the subway stop below Bank of America Tower at 42nd Street and 6th Ave. It was quite obvious from the way he looked that the man was mentally unstable, but what was absolutely astounding to me was that in the 10 minutes or so that I stood there waiting for my train, no one offered a helping hand towards this man. Not one single person, including myself.
The hundreds of bank workers that streamed off the arriving trains during that time, all walked pass him as if he was totally invisible. They may have glanced in his direction, or even temporarily broken their strides, but not one single individual stopped to inquire if this man needed help. Eventually my train arrived and I also left without doing anything. But the thought that we live in a society where cold, half naked, barefooted elderly men are tolerated was too much to concede. Are we really that bereft of feeling towards each other?
Honestly, the thought about being an advocate for the homeless never once crossed my mind. Like everyone else, I simply just did not care and blamed the unfortunate conditions the homeless found themselves in, on them. Once, I even wrote a farcical essay about the positive economic impact of public immolation of the homeless. Admittedly, that essay was vile, contemptible, juvenile and ultimately utter nonsense. But as I ruminated over what I observed that morning on the subway platform, I decided that in my own small way, to use my images to try to bring these Invisible Men to the forefront and possibly highlight this growing problem of homelessness in the New York City subway system.
To that end, this project will be an ongoing effort and will be updated frequently. In the interim, I implore you to look up local outreach organizations that help the homeless leave the streets and transition towards a better life. Naïve? Maybe, but I think it is worthy if through our efforts we can positively change the life of one of our fellow human beings.